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The Immortality Of The Soul In Plato

Philosophy and Religion Project Topic: The Immortality Of The Soul In Plato


 INTRODUCTION

Man is a being faced with numerous difficulties, problems, foes and so on. Perhaps the worst and the most dreaded of these foes is death. It has been tagged an arch-enemy of man, the destroyer of man, non-respecter of person, and has a host of other negative connotative words and names. Around the world and in many religions and cultures, people have sought to explain and demystify death, but with minute success.

At the bottom of all our phobias and neurosis lies a fear of death. This is so, probably because of the uncertainty surrounding death. Such things as: whether the experience will be painful or dehumanizing in some way? Whether there will be extension of life after death; whether death is the end. Even not being able to see the beloved once again in this earthly existence is enough puzzlement. All these are problematic realities which face and confront one as one encounters death or the death of a beloved one.

These were the dilemma in which Socrates’ friends and followers found themselves. Socrates, a teacher, a lovable friend, a just man, and an inculcator of morals; faced with option of death was irreconcilable, by his followers or friends. Phaedo expressed his emotion thus; “I felt an absolutely incomprehensible emotion a sort of curious blend of pleasure and pain combined as my mind took it that in a little while, my friend was going to die”. How can it happen, that the loved one will not be seen again in “saecula saeculorum”. Xanthippe, Socrates’ wife could not bear it, and she broke out thus, “Oh Socrates, this is the last time that you and your friends will be able to talk together”. They were afraid that he will be gone and gone forever.

Socrates however reassured them of the fact that he is going, but not to be gone forever. He approached this via the pedagogy of immortality. He charged them to see his departure as a transition to a better world, where his soul will be joined with the gods. Consequently, death as a sure route and entrance to eternity should be approached with cheerfulness rather than bitterness. With the immortal soul, one will live a perfect and uncontaminated type of life. No more hindrance or distraction from the bodily pleasures, no more turning of the soul to act against its “will”, no more prisoner in the prison yard of the body. With such thoughts, as expressed by Socrates, immortality as held by Plato is a fact and not a fancy.

However, our concern in this work is to show how Plato through the mouth of Socrates presented his arguments that led to his inevitable conclusion of asserting immortality. This is precisely why the work is divided into 3 chapters. Chapter one seeks to identify the question in general. It explores man as a composite being, the mind-body problem and their rapport. Also seen are the different notions of death and immortality.

Chapter two investigates in an in depth manner the Platonic thoughts relevant for his proofs of the immortality of the soul. There is a critique of Platonic view in chapter three. This is taken from the overview perspective which seeks to highlight some proofs of the soul. Also highlighted are some criticisms leveled against Plato. There is a denial and acceptance of immortality by some treated philosophers, though, theirs are on different levels of thought. Encompassed in the chapter is the Judeo-Christian perspective which treats immortality from the biblical point of view. Then, comes the conclusion.

CHAPTER ONE

1.0   IDENTIFYING QUESTION

1.1   MAN A COMPOSITE BEING

Man is a mystery which the philosophers of all ages have tried to unravel with little or no success. Even the biblical account of his creation in the image and likeness of God (If Gen 1:20-30) does not seem to explain totally this enigma, man and his nature. Long through the ages, some philosophers have conceived him as a being or a substance composed of different entities; others see him as composed of only two distinct realities of body and soul. Yet others see him as a being composed of correlative principles of body and soul, making a hylemorphic union.

Further, some identify his material nature (body) and spiritual nature (soul) as one and the same thing. This necessitates their inevitable conclusion of asserting man’s nature as purely material.

However, there are some puzzling and paradoxical questions which make the composition of man congestible: is man a body that has a soul? or is he a soul that has a body?

Does the soul which is conjoined with a body exist as an immaterial substance or principle, in such a way that the being composed of body and soul consists of two distinct substances, united as related parts of a whole? Is the soul the substantial form of an organic body, with the consequence that the form and matter make up together that which is the living thing?

Does the soul exist before being united to the body? Does the soul exist after the union is dissolved? How does it exist, when it exists separately apart from matter?

All these and other related questions on the composition of man are difficult to answer without dabbling into contradiction and absurdity.

On this note therefore, different schools of thought arose in the philosophical discourse of man as composite being; hence tackling the problem of soul and body, to which we now turn to.

1.2   THE SOUL – BODY PROBLEM: DIFFERENT THEORIES

It was not until 17th century commented John Perry in his work Philosophy of Mind, that the French philosopher, René Descartes represented his thought on mind. Perry’s thought is articulated in Encarta thus:

In his work represented a turning point in thinking about mind by making a strong distinction between bodies and minds, or the physical and the mental. This duality between mind and body, known as Cartesian dualism, has posed significant problem for philosophy ever since the existence of the problem.[1]

1.2.1        MONISM:

In response to the mind – body problem arising from Descartes’ theory of substance dualism, a number of philosophers have advocated various forms of substance monism, which are:

Monist idealist theory which is the theory in which the mind is taken to be the only real substance or entity and the monist materialist approach, the doctrine in which matter is taken to be the only real substance or entity.[2]

The doctrine shows that there is ultimately one kind of thing in reality.

In the 17th century, an Irish philosopher, George Berkeley claimed there were no material objects in the world; only the minds and their ideas. Berkeley thought that the talk about physical objects was simply a way of organizing the flow of experience. Near the turn of the 20th century, American psychologists and philosopher, William James proposed another form of substance monism. James claimed that experience is the basic stuff from which both bodies and minds are constructed.

1.2.2        MATERIALISM:

Materialists are those philosophers who believed that everything in the world is basically material or physical object. Among materialists, there is till considerable disagreement about the status of mental properties, which are conceived as properties of bodies or brains. Materialists who are ‘Property dualists believe that mental properties are an additional kind of property or attribute, not reducible to physical properties.[3] 

Property dualists have the problem of explaining how such properties can fit into the world envisaged by modern physical science, according to which there are physical explanations for all things. Materialists who are “Property monists believe that there is ultimately only one type of   property, although they disagree on whether or not mental properties exist in material form.[4]

Some property monist, known as reductive materialists, holds that “Mental properties exist simply as a subset of relatively complex and non-basic physical properties of the brain.[5]

Reductive materialists have the problem of explaining how the physical states of the brain can be inwardly accessible and have a subjective character, as mental states do. Other property monists, known as Eliminative materialists “Consider the whole category of mental properties to be a mistake.”[6]  According to them, mental properties should be treated as discredited postulates of an outmoded theory. Eliminative materialism is difficult for most people to accept, since we seem to have direct knowledge of our own mental phenomena by introspection and because we use the genial principles we understand about mental phenomena to predict and explain the behaviors of others.

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[1] Perry, John. “Philosophy of Mind.” Microsoft® Encarta® 2009 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2008.

 

[2] Achike J.C. Agbakoba, Theories of Mind, (Enugu: Snaap Press Ltd, 2001), 79.

[3] John Perry. “Philosophy of Mind.” Microsoft® Encarta® 2009 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2008.

 

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

 

 

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